Why It's Time To Let Go of Shame

awakening reflection (blog post) shame Sep 04, 2019
Image from Unsplash

by Dr Shuna Marr

Shame is actually a useful emotion and can save us from harm. However, much of the shame so many of us carry is based in our tribal ancestry. It is now time to let it go.
 
Having studied this from an anthroplogical and psychological perspective, I'd like to share some thoughts on shame...

Shame is an emotion

"Shame is an emotion and consequently a necessary part of our emotional guidance system. It has some useful purpose".

Shame is an emotion and consequently a necessary part of our emotional guidance system. It has served a useful purpose as a survival mechanism, to save us from situations where we might put ourselves in jeopardy of being thrown out of our tribe, or rejected in some way.

Mores, Taboos and Folkways

Every society, culture and tribe have established mores, taboos and folkways that form the value system of that society - each of us are raised in a way where there are certain things considered right or wrong.

Now although there are some generic taboos that appear in just about every culture (murder, incest etc), most of the other things are culture specific. For example, burping after a meal in the Middle East shows that the meal was enjoyed, whereas where I grew up, in Scotland, it would be considered rude and frowned at.

How ancestral energies are passed on

“A part of a parent's duty is to instruct their children in what is considered wrong or bad in their particular society”

A part of a parent's duty is to instruct their children in what is considered wrong or bad in their particular society, to protect them - because if any of the mores, taboos or folkways were broken, then there would be consequences. So to protect the child, if they did something that was felt to put them in danger of being thrown out of the tribe, then they were shamed by the parent.

You can see the logic - the shame was unpleasant and that would deter the child from doing the thing that would jeopardise their place in the tribe. It was how they had been taught when they were growing up, so the parent copied and passed on this teaching. This is how culture (and ancestral energy) is passed down through the generations.

How we come to fear shame

As we grow up and are no longer children, we find ourselves in situations where we have (or might think that we have) broken a rule of some sort, and this can trigger shame - or fear of shame.

For example, yesterday, I found myself inadvertently driving in a dedicated bus lane. I did it for about 3 seconds until I realised I had done it and immediately moved out the lane. However, for a while afterwards my brain went into a fear feedback loop and I suddenly realised how anxious I felt.

When I delved into the root of the fear, I found it was fear that I would be shamed by receiving a fine. To break a rule and flout authority was something that I was taught was a really bad thing to do and that the consequence would be that people would point their finger at you and would disapprove of you (i.e. tribal rejection and the love going away). So just the fear of the shame was enough to make me instantly react to save myself from experiencing it, and triggered anxiety.

How we come to shame ourselves

If people scorn or reject us, then that ancestral fear of not being able to survive outside of the tribe still kicks in. Even though in modern living we are no longer really reliant on a tribe for our day-to-day survival, we are still social creatures and we want to be accepted, and acceptable, to others.

So if we feel that others will not accept us, or our behaviour, then we often resort to shaming ourselves, to try and rid ourselves of that behaviour. And we often keep things secret, to hide what we think is shameful.

"We often keep things secret, to hide what we think is shameful."

An example of this happened also just yesterday. I called my son to ask if I could pop round to his flat (apartment) for a cup of tea, as I would be passing and I knew he was working from home. I could tell by his hesitation that he wanted to see me, but was ashamed that his flat was messy. He feared my judgement and disapproval. I reassured him that I was there to see him, I loved him unconditionally, and how he lived in his flat was up to him - but it was a good example of how we try to hide what we feel shame about and what we fear will cause others to reject us.

The emotional consequences of shame

If you grow up with a parent who constantly shames you, were constantly ridiculed at school, or shame is ingrained in your religion, then you might have experienced some of the consequences of being constantly shamed: addictions, depression, anxiety, eating disorders, compulsive behaviours, perfectionism, chronic pain (from stored emotions), digestive issues, social phobias.

I have spent the past 20 years, unpicking the social conditioning that was drummed into me as a child, by parents, church and society, and healing myself from all of the above.

What I have come to realise, when I have explored my shame, is that I invariable have the word 'should' going on in the background somewhere. That 'should' or 'shouldn't' immediately makes me conscious of there being an externally imposed value there.

'Should' or 'shouldn't' usually point to externally imposed values

If I now find myself thinking 'I should' or 'I shouldn't', I now examine it and decide if it is something that is truly aligned with my essential self - or if this is some learned behaviour or old cultural conditioning that no longer serves me and can be let go.

The bottom line is that cultural conditioning is an illusion - made up by previous generations to protect them in the situations in which they found themselves, who duly passed it on to the next generations, generally unconsciously.

Most of them are, as my son calls them, 'bulls*t rules'

As we move forward in our conscious evolution, it is now time to let this shame

...

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